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What is the Link Between Smoking and Heart Disease?

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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, discusses how smoking affects circulation this Heart Awareness Month.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease and strokes. It is the primary cause of disability and death worldwide. It accounts for 31% of all deaths, or 17 million deaths annually. Previously, more than half of deaths due to CVD occur before age 65. By 2030, premature deaths due to CVD among adults of working age (35-64 years) may increase by 41%.

The statistics supplied by The Heart And Stroke Foundation for SA are also grim. CVD kills more South Africans than all the cancers combined. It causes about one in six deaths in South Africa (17.3%). Every day, 215 individuals die from heart disease or strokes.

“The risk of CVD increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. Even if the duration of smoking is minimal, smoking less than five cigarettes per day may cause early signs of CVD,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

Murray, who obtained his MBA from Charles Sturt University in 2008, encourages healthy living. He continues to say that cigarettes with less tar or nicotine don’t lessen the risk of CVD. But non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at a higher risk of developing CVD. 

How Smoking Harms the Cardiovascular System 

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and transport it to your heart. Your heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout your body’s arteries.

But when you inhale smoke, the blood transported throughout the body becomes tainted. It carries the toxins from the smoke. At this stage, your blood has more than 7 000 chemical compounds in cigarette smoke. That can interfere with vital processes that maintain normal function. That blocks your heart and blood vessels, leading to CVD.

Smoking is also a known cause of abdominal aorta damage, which may cause a life-threatening aneurysm

Quitting Smoking Cuts CVD Risks 

Even though we do not know which smokers will develop CVD due to smoking, quitting is best for their hearts. Quitters instantly begin to enhance heart health and minimise the risk for CVD.

Within one day of quitting smoking, the following occurs:

  • Your heart rate slows down.
  • Your blood pressure stabilises.
  • Carbon monoxide levels decrease.
  • Oxygen can reach your heart and other organs faster.

Within two to three months, this is what happens in the body:

  • Your senses of smell and taste improve.
  • Your lungs start to regain the capacity to clean themselves.
  • You can cough up mucus, which keeps your airways clean.
  • Blood flow to your hands and feet improves.

Within one year:

  • Your lungs are healthier.
  • You can breathe easier.

Within two to six years:

  •  Your heart attack or stroke risk drops.
  • Severe health risks continue to decrease over time.

Learn More: Can Quitting Smoking Reverse Diabetes?

Where to Get Help

Around 20% of South Africa’s adult population (age 15+) smokes cigarettes. And a 2012 survey found that about 5% of the adult population used other tobacco products.

While quitting smoking is difficult, it is achievable. The most effective way to stop smoking is with a combination of:

  • Support (from your GP, pharmacist, family and friends).
  • Stop-smoking medicines such as nicotine replacement therapy.

“Speak to your healthcare provider about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). It may be safer for quitting smoking by supplying regulated doses of nicotine without the harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke,” concludes Murray.

Learn More: Can You Afford the Health Risks of Smoking?

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